Janice Pariat grew up between Shillong and pockets of Assam, where her father worked in the tea industry, during the late 1980s and early 90s - in the middle of intense militarization. The violence was so normalised that it was only when she moved to Delhi, as an undergraduate student in English Literature at the St.Stephen’s College, that she realized that not every place in the country has a military presence. She went on to learn more about her country and the world, and later moved to the UK to study History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
Over the years, Janice has established herself as a writer of English-language fiction in India, with her first book, Boats on Land (a short story collection) winning the Young Writer Award from Sahitya Akademi in 2013. She subsequently published two more novels- Seahorse (2014) and The Nine-Chambered Heart (2017).
Now a professor of Creative Writing at Ashoka University, Janice spoke to MAKERS India over a Zoom call recently, and shared her thoughts on writing, oral storytelling, and contemporary Indian socio-political scene.
“Boats on Land was really an homage to all the storytellers in my life, all the storytellers who have never written a book, and most of them did not know how to read and write, but they were wonderful storyline storytellers,” she says, adding that, as a professor, she encourages her students to listen to stories, not just read them.
Referring to the lack of visibility for the history and culture of the Northeastern States even in school textbooks, Janice says, “The first academic book that I read - which was solely dedicated to Meghalaya was by a Swedish academic, BG Karlsson: Unruly Hills: A Political Ecology of India’s Northeast. (To bring more exposure to Northeast) we need efforts at the structural level – policy-wise and politically. It will help create bridges between people.”
Although Janice is now based in Delhi, her childhood in the Northeast has greatly influenced her writing. She says, “In Boats on Land, the simmering political unease plays a huge role, because violence and militarization really is woven into the fabric of the life here. I carry it with me, rather than a particular moment or experience. It is a quite unease, and it feeds into some of my writing.”
Watch the video to find more.
(Interviewed and produced by Athira Nair)
Also Watch: Book Club: The Nine-Chambered Heart by Janice Pariat is an Experience Not to be Missed